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What is the 5 by 5 Rule and How to Use It (Reading Time: 4 minutes)

The 5 by 5 Rule

‘If it won’t matter in 5 years, do not spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it’

This was shared at an event I co-facilitated with Juliann from @empathiccounselling in conjunction with @nextgenmen in September that focused on #stress. Juliann Rasanayagam, the presenter that evening, shared the above rule with the group and it widely impacted those in attendance.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to apply this rule, shall we?

Imagine that you are running ten minutes late for work. Your mind starts to take over and come up with many automatic negative thoughts about the plethora of negative and disastrous outcomes that are going to result from your tardiness. As you are en-route to your job site, take a moment to sit back and reflect. Will this matter to me in 5 years?

As you begin to invite your thoughts to come to a rational place and decline the invitation to continue the automatic negative thoughts and catastrophize your own future, you may tell yourself, that no, this will not matter in five years. I know that I will not be let go for being late. I will not be docked my pay for 10 minutes, and I will still be able to pay my bills and rent as normal.

Now that you have rationalized that the worry or stressor will not affect you in 5 years, you can take the steps toward releasing this stress from consuming your imagination and causing undue anxiety. This is where acceptance becomes important.

Acceptance is a word that many of us struggle with when it comes to negative events in our lives. Often, we feel that if we accept that something is negative, it means that we are condoning it, we are OK with it, or that we are agreeing with something.

However, that is not the case, when we choose to accept something, it means that we acknowledge that it is a fact. When we refuse to accept things as reality, that keeps us in a place in a place of suffering. This is tied to the idea that emotions last 90 seconds.

According to Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, “Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”

Think of it this way, when we think of past romantic relationship that may have not ended on terms we desired, we could experience a wave of sadness. That wave will last 90 seconds or less if we allow it to simply pass. However, we are excellent at inviting in catalysts to push that time to last longer. We may listen to sad love songs, or read old love letters, or start to look a old photos with that person. All those actions initiate that feeling to continue longer than the 90 seconds and perpetuate the sadness. Taylor goes on to state, ‘It is our choice whether we master and assert self-control and patiently wait out the 90 seconds while the emotion intensifies, dissolves and then passes. Or, whether we allow it to cause an inferno in our minds so that it powerfully gains momentum until it eventually rages inside us.’

This takes practice and is a skill! But, because it is a skill, it means that we can learn how to get better at it and un-learn how to get consumed by it as well.

So, the next time you notice that you are having an emotional response to a stressor in your life, try out the 5 by 5 rule and see how it works for you. But, encourage you to add the following: rate your stress in that moment out of 10 with 1 being the complete absence of stress and 10 being the most stressful moment you can imagine having been through.

Then, take a couple of minutes to work through the 5 by 5 rule. Don’t rush it, rather think about the idea that are showing up and the invitations to be stressed and engage in the automatic negative thoughts and decline them by telling yourself that this will not matter.

After you have completed the above exercise, rate yourself again on the same scale; I imagine you will be surprised at the results.

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